The News Courier in Athens, Alabama

Sports

May 9, 2014

Athens girls advances to state finals on penalty kicks

HUNTSVILLE — Riley Ridgeway thought she had won the game for defending state champion Athens in Friday’s Class 5A semifinal. With seconds remaining in double overtime, the senior’s lofting shot from 30 yards out went over through the St. Paul’s keeper’s hands and into the goal.

Only it didn’t count.

The buzzer sounded as the ball soared through the air, sending the scoreless game into a penalty shootout. Moments later, players celebrated a 3-1 penalty shootout win to advance to the state championship game for the third consecutive season.

“We had been working on that for about two weeks, about three days a week in practice,” said Athens head coach Stace Tedford. “We missed some opportunities early in the game to score some goals. When you’re in the Final Four, I’ll take a 5-0 win or 1-0 win — it doesn’t matter.”

Ridgeway and Emily Pool gave Athens an early advantage in the penalty shootout after St. Paul’s first kicker hit the post. Athens missed its two next attempts, but Tifani Dunaway kept AHS in the game with a crucial save on St. Paul's third kick.

After St. Paul’s fourth kicker missed wide, Miranda Huddleston stepped up and buried the ball in the upper corner to seal the win.

“We have the same heart that we did last year,” said Huddleston. “We stayed together and kept pushing hard. In times of adversity, we got closer together, rather than falling apart.”

Athens dominated most of the game, but couldn’t convert its majority possession into goals.  Rideway came closest for Athens with less than 10 seconds in the first half, but her dipping shot went just wide as the halftime buzzer sounded.

Nine minutes after halftime, Kaitlyn Wise got through one-on-one with the goalie 25 yards from goal, but sent the ball just wide of the empty net.  Athens' best chance came with 16 minutes left when Wise hard-hit shot dinged off the near post.

The Golden Eagles' next chance came in the dying seconds when officials ruled Ridgeway’s shot went in after the buzzer.

“I was mad,” said Ridgeway. “The last time I looked there were about 10 seconds left, so I knew I had to shoot. And the one shot we got in the goal doesn’t count. It was frustrating.”

Advancing to its third straight title game appearance, Athens will play in the 5A finals at 10 a.m. Saturday against Birmingham's John Carroll.

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